Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Devil Dinosaur was one of the latter-creations Jack Kirby brought to Marvel, debuting in Devil Dinosaur#1 (1978). Many comic fans have looked down on Devil Dinosaur as being unworthy of Kirby's talent, an embarrassing endpoint to one of the single most influential Marvel creators whose career spanned four decades. However, according some accounts, Devil was developed as a potential animated series for Marvel when DC was investigating an animated program of Kirby's Kamandi series. Taken as a potential Saturday morning kid's program, Devil Dinosaur is pretty awesome!
Accompanying Devil in his adventures was Moon Boy, a shaggy young neanderthal-type. Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur were each outcasts among their kind (Devil for his red hide, Moon Boy for his intellect) and became like brothers. The series set them up against unusual adversaries, including a giant spider, a giant man and aliens from another planet in a storyline that developed into a retelling of the tale of Adam & Eve. It was similar to ideas Kirby had played with in Eternals about aliens influencing humanity's development, reflecting a 70s interest in throwing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Chariots of the Gods and the Bible into a blender.
Devil Dinosaur's series lasted a mere nine issues, but he's made occasional appearances in the Marvel Universe ever since, including a memorable two-part battle with Godzilla when Marvel held the license. In the 1980s they joined the ranks of the Fallen Angels, a mini-series that started as the adventures of a gang of mutant teens and gradually became a team of just plain odd Marvel characters. Devil Dinosaur attained a one-shot special in 1997, an Annual with Spider-Man 1998 and another one-shot in 2005 where he fought the Hulk.
And where is Devil Dinosaur now? Well, a recent tale in Heroes for Hire separated Devil and Moon Boy when the Heroes kidnapped Moon Boy for SHIELD. This week's one-shot special Avengers: The Initiative Featuring Reptil#1 picks up that dangler. Pick it up and you may learn that...even a jungle lord can cry!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Stegron debuted in Marvel Team-Up #19 (1974), by creators Len Wein and Gil Kane. At the time, Marvel Team-Up usually starred Spider-Man in the lead role, paired with a different hero each month. This time out (to no great surprise) his guest star was Ka-Zar. Stegron could have easily gone on to become a Ka-Zar villain, but for some reason he's stuck mainly to the pages of Spider-Man's comics.
Vincent Stegron was an assistant to Dr. Curtis Connors (a recurring Spider-Man character best known as the Lizard). While working on one of Connors' tissue regeneration projects (those never go well) using dinosaur tissue brought from the Savage Land, Stegron had the idea to transplant dinosaur tissue into his own body. Well, it worked and he became the stegosaurus-type you see above. A man named Stegron? Transformed into a humanoid stegosaurus? How convenient.
At any rate, Stegron has a few interesting abilities, notably the power to issue telepathic commands to dinosaurs. He also has some fancy technology which can reanimate dead dinosaurs, even those reduced to skeletons (though it's a short-term effect). Stegron has effectively turned his back on his humanity and thrown his lot in with the dinosaurs, feeling they owe humans some payback for having been rendered virtually extinct.
Stegron appeared only about a dozen times in his first 30 years of existence, but he's been making the rounds in a few titles recently. In last year's Marvel Comics Presents#5-7 writer Christos N. Gage brought out a three-part Savage Land serial where various Savage Land denizens - Ka-Zar, Shanna, Devil Dinosaur, Stegron - joined forces to drive out Roxxon Oil (Marvel's all-purpose evil corporation). There was a memorable moment in the climax where Stegron animated an army of dead dinosaurs - essentially "zombie dinosaurs."
And where has Stegron been since then? Why, Christos N. Gage is far from finished with him! Check out this week's Avengers: The Initiative Featuring Reptil#1 to see Stegron as the main villain!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
So, we start with the most significant homeland of dinosaurs in Marvel Comics, the Savage Land! This hidden repository of prehistorical creatures first appeared in X-Men #10 (1965), by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It was obviously inspired by other hidden lands (the Lost World, Pellucidar). But before I get into the land itself, I have to mention its two most significant inhabitants: Ka-Zar the Savage and Zabu the saber-tooth tiger.
The character of Ka-Zar actually dates back to the 1930s when Marvel published pulp novels; Ka-Zar was a vaguely-Tarzan-like white man raised in the jungle by the lion Zar and went on vaguely-Tarzan-like adventures. When Marvel entered comics publishing in 1939 with Marvel Comics #1 - Ka-Zar was there. But within a few years he had vanished to obscurity. The Ka-Zar introduced in X-Men #10 had the name and fashion sense in common, little else.
So, the history of the Savage Land is best followed by following Ka-Zar. Ka-Zar made appearances in several Marvel titles over the years (including Daredevil). In the late 1960s Marvel began to expand their lineup for the first time in more than a decade (due to near-bankruptcy in the 1950s). Among the new titles in 1970 was Astonishing Tales, a split book which co-featured Ka-Zar and Dr. Doom. Eventually, Ka-Zar sent Dr. Doom packing and became the sole feature of the title. Astonishing Tales only spent so much time in the Savage Land, however; Ka-Zar was soon dragged out of the jungles and went on adventures with SHIELD, separating him from his most unique selling point - his environment. During the run of Astonishing Tales Ka-Zar picked up a second title - Savage Tales. Begun as Marvel's first black & white magazine, Conan the Barbarian was usually the head feature but he drifted out when his own title (the Savage Sword of Conan) was launched. Ka-Zar dominated the series and the Savage Land itself picked up a feature of its own in the final issue, published 1975.
Although Ka-Zar was eventually driven from Astonishing Tales, he came back with his own title almost immediately. The new Ka-Zar book was set mostly in the Savage Land and featured his first meeting with Shanna the She-Devil, a female jungle hero whose own series had been cut short. However, it would take a few more years before Ka-Zar & Shanna would team up on a regular basis. During the Savage Tales stories, Ka-Zar befriended Bernard Kloss, a stuttering palaeontologist who became a regular character in the ongoing Ka-Zar series. Kloss was notable for his unbridled enthusiasm toward everything in the Savage Land and his inabilty to be frightened by the various quite-frightening denizens of the land. Unfortunately, Ka-Zar's series ended in 1977 on a cliffhanger which was swept under the rug in a subsequent X-Men appearance.
In 1981, Bruce Jones launched Ka-Zar into a new series which featured Shanna as a regular. It was during the course of this title that Ka-Zar and Shanna became married. It was also the first time that someone tried to explain just what the deal with the Savage Land was. Lying in the midst of Antarctica, it was a little hard to believe how a lost civilization of dinosaurs could survive. Jones expanded the Savage Land further with Pangaea, a plateau with civilizations which were further-advanced than most of what had been seen in the Savage Land at the time; Pangaea was revealed to have been something like an amusement park built by ancient Atlanteans. However, the ultimate revelation behind the Savage Land was that it had been built as a conservation measure by aliens but then left alone and forgotten. The science fiction turn in those issues of Ka-Zar was perhaps an ill-fit, but the title ended just then in 1984.
Since then, writers have tried destroying the Savage Land but it can't be kept down; a reasonably successful Ka-Zar series launched in 1997 to great acclaim, but sadly went under the following year. The Savage Land still turns up regularly in Marvel comics, often in the X-Men titles where it first appeared.
The Savage Land is great because it doesn't (and never did) require an explanation. Lost lands where dinosaurs still roam are a trope of so many fictional worlds that I don't suppose it bothered too many people that the Savage Land went without an origin for its first two decades. Now that it has an origin we can safely ignore (just like virtually every writer since 1984), it's simply a playpen for stories set in the Marvel Universe. Everyone from Spider-Man to Deadpool has taken a trip to the Savage Land for some dinosaur fun. It's the place where dinosaurs live; simple as that.
More on Dinosaurs in Comics tomorrow; be sure to pick up the Avengers: The Initiative Special Featuring Reptil! You can read a preview here!
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
"Would you like a free comic book?"
"I don't know. What is it?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Okay. Uh, all right."
"Aw! You bastard!"
"Sorry. Look, you don't have to take it, it would only defile your other comics."
Monday, March 16, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
But perhaps the most interesting part of the collection is Poe's only novel, the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym. It tells of a young man who goes to sea one night with his (unfortunately) drunken friend. Surviving this, he decides to go to sea again, this time smuggled in the ship his friend serves on with the intent of emerging later on. Unfortunately, the crew fall into mutiny, Pym helps retake the ship and the remaining crew succumb to starvation, sharks and cannibalism before another ship takes the last two men aboard. Pym travels with this ship toward the South Pole and they encounter a race of hostile natives with black skin (and black teeth). The story ends abruptly.
As a fan of the Old-Time Radio program the Weird Circle, my previous exposure to the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym was their dramatization. The Weird Circle was not the greatest OTR program in terms of acting or production, but the entire series was adapted from classic fiction, often from obscure authors and I enjoyed discovering these long-forgotten tales.
But their adaptation of the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym has little to do with the story I outlined above. Both have a protagonist with the same name, but in the radio version Pym is shanghaied aboard a ship; the crew mutiny against their captain but the ship is lost at sea, Pym survives and encounters the captain when he returns to land. I have to wonder, was this actually another story entirely whose title was replaced (by accident?).
So, I started to wonder how the rest of the Poe adaptations on the Weird Circle stack up. Here are my findings:
THE TELL-TALE HEART
Poe: A young man murders an elderly man because he cannot bear his milky eye; he buries him beneath the floorboards but hallucinates that he can hear his heart beating and confesses everything.
Weird Circle: A young man murders his uncle because he's constantly nagging him, he has a milky eye and he hears voices in his head compelling him to murder. He buries him beneath the floorboards but is still haunted by the (annoying) phantom voices, hallucinates that he can hear his heart beating and confesses everything.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Poe: A man goes to visit his old friend whose sister has passed away. The brother is visibly unnerved about something and on an eerie evening as terrible noises are heard in the house confesses that he buried his sister alive; his sister bursts in and they die in a struggle; the house of Usher collapses.
Weird Circle: The respective lovers of the two Usher siblings come to visit them as the lady Usher passes away, accompanied by red rain. The sinister, scheming brother insists his sister was a witch. She finally rises from the dead to reclaim her soul from her brother; the two lovers escape, the house of Usher collapses.
Poe: William Wilson meets another man named William Wilson who follows him in everything he does. He finally attacks and kills the other Wilson only to find that there is only one William Wilson - he has killed himself.
Weird Circle: William Wilson meets another man named William Wilson who follows him in everything he does. He finally attacks and kills the other Wilson only to find that there is only one William Wilson - he has killed himself.
THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE
Poe: Detective Auguste Dupin investigates the murder of a woman and her daughter inside a sealed room. He ultimately proves that an orangutang who accidentally learned to wield a razor is responsible.
Weird Circle: Detective Auguste Dupin investigates the murder of a woman and her daughter inside a sealed room. He ultimately proves that an orangutang who accidentally learned to wield a razor is responsible.
THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO
Poe: Montressor leads his hated rival Fortunato down into his catacombs for some amontillado; in actuality, there is no wine and it is a trap. He seals Fortunato up behind a wall; the murder is never discovered.
Weird Circle: Fortunato sells Montressor into slavery so that he can claim the woman Montressor loves. Montressor eventually regains his family fortune and leads Fortunato down into his catacombs for some amontillado; in actuality, there is no wine and it is a trap. He closes Fortunato behind a door; the murder is never discovered, but Montressor is haunted by his actions for the rest of his life.
Poe: Two families have feuded for ages. When one of the family's home burns down a horse (possibly the same one from a tapestry) appears. Metzengerstein takes it as his steed, believing it to be the reincarnation of his family's rival, but the horse ultimately leads him to his death.
Weird Circle (as "The Tapestry Horse"): Two families have feuded for ages. When one of the family's home burns down a horse (possibly the same one from a tapestry) appears. Luren takes it as his steed, believing it to be the reincarnation of his family's rival, conquers the horse and weds a daughter of the rival family, ending the feud.
Poe: A man loses his wife Ligeia. He marries another woman, but she dies of a fever too, then transforms into Ligeia, returned to life.
Weird Circle (as "The Returned"): The woman Ligeia is dead and immediately begins haunting her husband's home. When he marries another woman and brings her home the hauntings increase. The second wife seems to succumb to a fever Ligeia's spirit caused. Ligeia's spirit inhabits the second wife's body, the husband kills himself, Ligeia mourns him and returns to death.
THE OBLONG BOX
Poe: An artist carries an unusual oblong box with him aboard a ship. He has also brought his wife who does not seem to be the beauty everyone heard she was. When the ship goes down, the artist goes with it as he chases after the oblong box. It turns out that his wife is dead and was being impersonated by his maid; he kept his wife's body in the box because he could not transport a corpse otherwise.
Weird Circle: An artist carries an unusual oblong box with him aboard a ship. He has also brought his wife who does not seem to be the beauty everyone heard she was. When the ship goes down, the artist goes with it as he chases after the oblong box. It turns out that he murdered his wife aboard the ship and kept her in the oblong box, then had his maid impersonate his wife.
THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR
Poe: A mesmerist places a dying man into a trance at the moment of death and he continues to exist in a state of unlife for seven months until the mesmerist breaks the trance; the subject crumbles into gore.
Weird Circle: A sinister mesmerist places a dying woman into a trance at the moment of death and she continues to exist in a state of unlife for seven months until the woman's husband demands she be released; the subject simply dies and the mesmerist is hung for her death; the mesmerist places himself in a trance at the moment of his own death.
A parting thought on the differences: although Poe had a reputation for horror, the Weird Circle generally seemed determined to increase the amount of bloodshed in his stories.